Monday, March 30, 2009

Make Up Time

Well, to make up for the week of torrential downpours, nature treated us Saturday and Sunday to absolutely stunning days. Clear skies of crisp blue. Cool temperatures with almost no humidity and a sweet breeze. I read a lot on the deck while I watched the hungry birds swarm our feeders. (For a couple of days we had been putting food "on" the deck because it required wading to reach the feeders.)

I'm still finding reading on my Kindle 2 a pleasing experience. It's nice to always have a perfectly flat page, I'm finding. I also discovered earlier in the week that Amazon has quite a number of free Kindle books available for download, including a Robin Hobb fantasy and a Lee Child thriller. However, I must confess that I actually put in an order for printed copies of several of the books I've already read on my Kindle. I just really, really like having printed books around me.

On Saturday, Lana and I went to a few garage sales in Abita Springs. Word had gone out Friday that the town wide garage sale plans had been postponed, but some folks either didn't get the word or decided Saturday was too lovely not to have a sale. Despite having to walk through mud in places, a good time seemed to be had by all. Lana bought quite a few pieces of the colored glass she loves, and I bought........drumroll please.......books! It's hard to pass up any book that you might one day read when you get them for 25 to 50 cents.

I also got in a couple of good walks, and Lana and I went Sunday afternoon to one of the local nature centers. I'm sure she'll have up some pics this week.

And in the evenings, writing was accomplished.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

What a Week

First, hard drive failure on Monday: No writing accomplished. School work only.

Second, reloading reformatted hard drive, Tuesday and Wednesday: Minimal writing accomplished.

Third, driving through torrential downpours going and coming from work Thursday: Still, some writing accomplished.

Fourth, wide scale flooding in the neighborhood on Friday. I managed to make it out of the neighborhood Friday morning but coming home I had to park a couple of miles away and hoof it through waist deep water for a good ways before making it to semi-solid land. We then waited out storm cell after storm cell, with rain coming in sheets while the black sky blammed with lightning and thunder, and with the water creeping steadily higher in our yard: Writing not even attempted.

It turns out one of the pumping stations in Abita Springs broke down and our area got the worst of the backup during the day and early night on Friday. Fortunately, neither of our cars were damaged. Nor was our house. And this morning the sun is flaming from a wide blue sky and the swamp in our yard is gradually receding.

Will there be writing today? We'll see.

By the way, Lana has a flood pic and more info on the experience at her blog.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Hard Drive Failure

Well, my work computer entered a terminal loop Monday morning when I tried to boot it up. Our ITC department came to pick it up and I found out today the hard drive was completely fried. Our expert was unable to save anything and had to reformat the entire machine. I got it back Tuesday afternoon with a mind wipe.

Fortunately, I'm rather obsessive about backing everything up and didn't really loose any data. I did loose many hours of work, though, since most everything I do these days involves computers and email. That meant I had about six straight hours of work at home that evening, work I should have gotten done at school.

Between that and having to restore all my files on the computer on Tuesday, I had to let visiting blogs slide completely. But I should be able to get back on track tomorrow.

In other news, I got some more copies of my books in and can offer signed copies at something of a discount if anyone is interested. The prices are below, and these prices include shipping and handling, which makes the discount fairly reasonable.

Cold in the Light: $12.50

Any Individual Talera novel: $14.50

Any Two Talera Novels: $28.00

All Three Talera Novels: $40.00

I'll throw in a copy of Strange Worlds of Lunancy, which has a story by me and is subtitled "The World's Silliest Anthology," for $5.00 with any order. (I only have 3 of these, though)

If you're interested, email me at

Until later!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

I Appear to be Fabulous!

James Reasoner nominated me for this award last Sunday, and a little later Shauna Roberts also nominated me. I much appreciate it James and Shauna. It’s nice to be recognized.

To accept this award I’m supposed to post five things I’m obsessed with, and also nominate five other fabulous blogs for the award. Now I don’t believe there are five things I’m “obsessed” with in the clinical use of that term, but I certainly can find five things that I spend a lot of my spare time doing. Those will have to do. So, my “obsessions” first.

1. Reading: This is closest I come to an obsession in a clinical sense. I’m virtually a compulsive reader. Last night I was reading a book I’m not enjoying very much. Lana and I were also having a conversation, and I found after a few minutes that I’d read ten pages of the book without actually paying attention to anything more than the bare words. I read everywhere, and anything. Have book? Will read!

2. Books: I suppose this goes hand in hand with number 1, but in addition to reading compulsively, I also really just enjoy being around and handling books. I like rearranging my shelves, and going through piles of unread books to select one that I want to read. I like to see my collection add up as I finish a new book and put it on the shelves. This is one thing that my Kindle 2 will never replace, and it’s a biggie.

3. Food: I rather love to eat. And I eat a lot. I’m no gourmet, though, and I’m no kind of chef who carefully prepares his meals according to some inner creative fire. I want food on my plate. Hearty food. Large amount s of it. And I want to say mmhymmn when I fork those bites to my mouth.

4. Nature: I love living in the country, to awake in the morning to the sun streaming through the trees. I love to get out and hike. I love having living things all around me other than human beings. The natural world is so incredibly beautiful. I couldn’t truly live without it.

5. Imagining: This one is a riff off of Shauna’s selection of “creating.” I simply love the act of imagining things. For the Talera series, for example, I’ve got a large number of plants and animals and cities and landmasses etc. that have not yet appeared in the books. I just loved making them up. And I’ve mentioned my habit of making up stories for myself as I lay down to go off to sleep. Much of my day is spent interacting with my own imagination.

It's hard to choose only five people from among the many wonderful blogs I read. My choices are five blogs that in the past year have expanded my horizons or helped me be a better writer. Thanks to all of them:

Greg Schwartz: Greg is a very fine poet; I have several of his collections. Reading his work has taught me a bit about how to use dark humor in poetry, something I’m not very adept at but which I admire. He also often has great info on markets and I’ve sold a couple of things to magazines he’s linked to.

Hello Ello 2: Ello has funny children, very, very funny children. Or else Ello is funny enough herself to make her children seem tremendously funny. For some good humor, sometimes from what America’s Funny Home Videos call the “naughty file,” check her blog out.

Wayne Allen Sallee: Wayne is an immensely talented writer, and also a friend of mine. Even though we’ve only met once in person. Whether in his blogging or his fiction, Wayne always writes close to the bone.

Sidney Williams: Sid is another friend of mine, and also a very fine writer. I’ve got at least 7 or 8 of his books on my shelves. Sid doesn’t post very often but he always has something interesting to say when he does. He also runs the very interesting Fear on Demand

Heff: Heff doesn’t read much, as he’s happy to tell you. But he talks a lot about food and drink, one of my obsessions, and about heavy metal and hard rock music, which is the only kind I listen too. Whenever you’re tired of reading blogs about writing and writers, hop over to Heff’s for something completely different. Besides, he owns a bar, and where else are you going to go if there’s a zombie outbreak?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Philosophy Corner: Mild Rant Ahead

At lunch yesterday I had a debate with a colleague and friend of mine about fairness. We were first talking about students doing group projects. I said I always hated them in school because I ended up doing the work while others loafed, and that I thought of them as inherently unfair. That’s one reason I never assign them to my students. My friend said that’s one reason he does assign them. He felt that students needed to learn now that the world is unfair. In other words, that’s just the way it is.

Damn but that phrase and that argument bother me. Any reasonably intelligent and experienced person knows the world isn’t fair. But the fact remains that the world should be fair, and it’s important—I think—to say so. It’s important to strive for fairness in our dealings with the world, and people who work toward fairness can make a difference in that world, sometimes small ones, sometimes big ones.

Although I’m sure that not everyone who has supported equal rights for women, minorities, and gays over the years has done so without ulterior motives, I firmly believe that many have done so out of a sense of fairness. It’s simply not right for women to be paid less than men for equal work. It’s not fair for African Americans or gay couples to be discriminated against because of their skin color or sexual orientation. Yet, there have been times (and sometimes those times are now) when such discrimination has happened. Did the fact that women once lacked the right to vote mean people should have accepted it because that was “just the way it was?”

I don’t typically think of myself as an idealist, or even a liberal. I’m certainly no saint. And I don’t really care if my friend assigns his classes group projects. What I do reject, though, is the attitude of that’s just the way it is. I refuse to accept it.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Something New?

Here's something that came to me last week. Mainly just a scene. I'm not quite sure where it's going, and so far haven't figured out exactly how to advance from here. But, for what it's worth:

Razored Land

No cross. No flowers. No marker at all.

He didn’t want the grave found.

After scattering the leftover dirt from the hole he’d dug and then filled, he made a broom from a pine limb with its needles still attached to wipe away his footprints and the unnaturally smooth cuts of the shovel into the soft forest loam. Dead leaves and twigs added to the camouflage over the grave, and when he finished his work and stepped back, he thought: Nothing will find you here. And nothing will smell you either. Not the animals. Not even the Others.

At the bottom of the hole, over the lacerated body, he’d interlaced layers of fresh cut pine boughs. They made a fragrant shroud, redolent with a spring season this dead one would not see again. Over that he’d put a paving of stones.

A fragment of sound brought the man’s head up. His right hand dropped to the .357 at his hip, rough fingers curling around the worn grip. Nostrils flared. His yellow-brown eyes searched the surrounding wood. He smelled longleaf pine, and Yaupon holly, and the first blooms of the blackberry brambles. He smelled other things, new things on the earth. But these new things weren’t dangerous. And he saw only the same things he smelled, and no movement except a flutter of leaves and pine needles in the breeze that soothed his sweat.

Perhaps an acorn had fallen. Or a twig. Still, he did not relax. He never completely relaxed. Not any more. But the steel spring tension in his muscles eased slightly, and the breath slid once more into his lungs through tight-drawn lips.

The sweat had dried on his chest and back now, and he walked over to the tree where he’d hung his shirt and hat. The shirt was cotton, and had once been white. The hat was flat brimmed, of black leather. He slipped them on, then picked up the shovel and his rifle and walked away from the grave of the little girl he’d just buried.

--- end ---

So, did he kill the child? Find the child dead? Is he a good guy or a bad guy? And who are "The Others?" What do you think?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Still Busy

Not much writing going on in my world. Midterms are done but everything else that backed up behind that is now due. I've got two IRB proposals on my desk today, and I've already dealt with two others this week. IRB stands for Internal Review Board, and we are the committee on campus that reviews any research involving human participants to make sure no one gets hurt. Unfortunately, I'm the chairperson. Sigh!

Ninety-five percent of the studies we review are just surveys, with virtually no chance to cause a participant any discomfort. In those cases, I'm the only member of the committee who has to review the project. The main issue is making sure all the i's are dotted and t's are crossed so we won't get into trouble with funding agencies. This wouldn't be so tough if professors weren't a lot like students in their failure to read instructions.

A submitter told me once, "Wow, I guess it would have made your job a lot easier if I'd proofread my proposal before turning it in."

You think?

One bit of good news, though. One of my horror haiku from Wanting the Mouth of a Lover has been nominated for the Rhysling Award in speculative poetry. This is the award given annually by the Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA). I know who nominated the poem and I much appreciate it. It's a great honor.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Comfort versus Discomfort

Well, I finished mid-terms and now I’d like to go to sleep. Unfortunately, I have a late meeting this afternoon so I’m still in the office. I’ve got some writing I want to do, but I thought a quick post might be in order.

Over on her blog, Patty Abbott asked where writers tend to set their scenes, and about where writers feel comfortable. That got me thinking, which is always a dangerous thing. And sometimes silly.

I guess there are two sides to that question. Where does a writer feel comfortable, in the sense of being familiar with a place that is featured in a scene? And where does a writer feel emotionally comfortable?

I think it’s important, although not always absolutely necessary, to at least link your scenes physically to places you are familiar with. Or, you need to make yourself familiar with those places. Cold in the Light is set in Arkansas, in the Ozark Mountains, an area I’m intimately familiar with. The Talera books are set on another planet, and I’ve…only been there a few times. But what I haven’t seen in person I try to make up for with research. As writers, we live in a boon time for that. Just about every place has been photographed and those pictures are online. It’s not a complete substitute for actually walking the ground of a place, but it can sure provide many important details. If I need to get an idea of what a jungle waterfall looks like on Talera, I can at least start by checking out photos of jungle waterfalls here on Earth.

On the other hand, when it comes to emotion, I tend to think writers should work from a position of discomfort. I don’t think you want to feel too emotionally comfortable in your fictional world, or else a good source of story tension will be lost. I think this is especially true in some genres. Take horror fiction, for example. I think the best fiction comes when writers are experiencing at least some of the same emotions they want the reader to experience. I realized from Patty’s post, that I like to use claustrophobic situations in my horror. I like to use the dark woods. And those kinds of situations make me intensely uncomfortable myself.

What say you? Is it different for other genres? Or does the rule generally hold true?

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Starting and Stopping

Three days! After my last round of grading I had three glorious days to work on Wraith of Talera. Since it had been a couple of months since the last time I worked on it, most of those three days was spent in a careful rereading and revision of material already completed. I had to refresh my memory as to where I was in the story. Right about the time I got back to “new” material, mid-terms hit. I managed to get some needed plotting done, but not much in the way of new writing. Since then I’ve been grading. Just grading.

Starting and stopping is one of the hardest things to deal with in on a novel length project. And, unfortunately, that’s the nature of the teaching biz. You have moments of down time, then moments of insanity. And this semester I’m teaching a non-fiction writing class, which means a lot more paper grading than in most semesters. There’s always in academia, in addition, the need to do at least a couple of scholarly type writing projects a year. Those provide more interference with any long-term fiction goal.

But it’s not just the academic job that interferes. I had a couple of really nice opportunities to do some short fiction and nonfiction. They were things I wanted to do and that were good for my career, so the novel went on the back burner. For too long.

I wish I could end this post with a lesson I’ve learned, or a technique for dealing with slow downs. Ain’t gonna happen. I’ve got more grading tomorrow, and on Monday I’ll have a pile of late papers to grade so that I can get midterms turned in by high noon Tuesday. Right now I’m pretty tired and am going to bed. I’ll try to make my blog rounds tomorrow, but Monday and Tuesday are likely to be no shows for me. After that I might get back to a semblance of normalcy for a while. Then it’ll be final exams and all the hassle surrounding graduation.

Just gotta hang on. Gotta hang on.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Kindle 2: Update

Well, I've found new reasons to like my Kindle, and one reason to not be quite so happy.

First, battery life continues to be outstanding. I hardly ever read more than a couple of hours straight and so far that has posed no problem. And even when I leave the machine running between reading bouts, it has a sleep mode that protects battery life.

Second, and most wonderous, the process of "Kindlizing" many of the ebooks I've already downloaded from the public domain has been virtually effortless. You sign in at Amazon, go to your kindle page, where they have already assigned you an email address based on your registration email address. For example, if the email you registered at Amazon was, your kindle address would be

You then type in any email address you want kindle to recognize as acceptable, such as a home or work address. You attach files to an email from that address and send it to They kindlize it and return it to you. This happens within a minute or two. You can have the kindlized version returned to your computer, or sent directly to your kindle. There is a 10 cent charge for having it sent to your kindle. They add this to your credit card and charge you after you run up $3 bucks worth. It's free if you have the file sent to your computer but then, of course, you'll have to download directly through a USB cable.

Note, however, the kindlizing process is not perfect. It will not, for example, except docx (vista) files. It will recognize MS doc files, and text files. Regular MS.doc files translate almost perfectly to Kindle, although the table of contents for Swords of Talera was formatted with some broken lines. Other than that the formatting was perfect. Text files also translate very well into Kindle, but the kindlizing process seems to take out line breaks so you don't see a break between chapters. I fixed this for my text files by typing in a ----- after each chapter, before uploading. Kindle translated this as a line, thus giving you a break between chaps. Paragraph indents work fine in text and doc files

The one frustrating thing involves PDF files, of which I have a lot. Although the "words" from PDF files translate just fine, the formatting is often screwed up. Paragraph breaks sometimes don't show up, and page breaks are non-existent. This can affect the reading experience and for me it means I won't be routinely uploading PDF files to my kindle. Is there any way to convert PDF files to text or word?

Fortunately or unfortunately, last night, instead of writing, I spent my evening uploading public domain text and word stories to my Kindle. Project Gutenberg has a lot of public domain stuff, including some old horror, fantasy and SF that you can download to your computer as text only, then upload to your Kindle. (Remembering to type in the -----, of course)

But now I have some very cool old fantasy novels to read by the likes of David Lindsey and Lord Dunsany, and some more modern stuff by Hamilton and Carr, and even some "Spider" stuff by Norvell Page. These are things that are hard to find in print, or if you do find it you don't want to read it because the book is falling apart.

Read on!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Info Dumps in Fantasy Fiction

Typically, info dumps occur when a writer gives a good chunk of background or explanatory information in a story all at once. For example, I seem to remember in The Da Vanci Code that our first sight of the Louvre is followed by a couple of paragraphs of information “about” the building and its history.

Info dumps can sometimes be quite interesting on their own right, but they do seem to slow down the action of a story, and they are often considered a mark of lazy writing. Info dumps don’t accomplish any of the primary story goals, which involve developing characters and moving the plot along.

The problem of info dumps is, I think, exacerbated in fantasy, and probably SF, where huge amounts of information often need to be given the reader before they can truly understand the story. If you have your character transported to another planet, then the reader needs to understand something about the nature of the planet before they can truly involve themselves in the story. While much of this background material can be revealed gradually as the character interacts with his environment, that just doesn’t always seem possible.

Here’s an example from Wraith of Talera. One character comments about a particular race of beings by saying: “They breed like heen.” “Heen,” of course, is something I just made up that moment. They’ve never appeared before in any Talera book. So I have a dilemma. I could leave heen without any explanation and trust the reader will mentally replace heen with something like rabbits, which is the intent of the statement. But that feels incomplete to me. What if the reader just says WTF (fill in the meaning yourself here), and tosses the book aside?

The other choice, it seems to me is to give a quick info dump. Something like: “I knew of the heen. They are rat-sized predators that hunt in huge packs. In appearance, they are like miniature monkeys with big heads, but they have the teeth and feeding habits of piranha. They are notorious for the rapidity with which they reproduce.”

Personally, I feel OK about such short info dumps for two reasons. First, the dump is given from Ruenn’s point of view and it’s already established that he is telling, and eventually writing, this story down in first person for others to read. Since he knows “his” readers won’t know what a heen is, he explains it. I’m OK with that.

Second, I’ve actually always kind of enjoyed such little asides in Sword & Planet fiction, and I’ve been told by other readers that they kind of like them too. It just seems a kind of intimate way of learning little tidbits about the world and cultures that would not normally be examined in the main plot of the story.

So what do you folks thing? Should one let the readers figure out for themselves what “heen” means? Does it distort the flow of the story too much to have such asides? Or do you enjoy such things? And is there a better way to do it? I’m wondering.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Kindle 2

Well, I broke down and bought myself a Kindle 2. It arrived Friday and I’m just about to finish reading my first book on it, Scorpio Reborn, by Kenneth Bulmer, writing under the pseudonym Alan Burt Akers. Bulmer was actually a major influence on my decision to buy a Kindle. His Dray Prescot series of Sword & Planet novels ended at #37 in the USA, but continued for a number of books more in Germany. The series was actually written in English, however, and, recently, Mushroom Books began to release the remaining volumes to English audiences. Unfortunately, they were only available as ebooks, and as much as I wanted to read them I just didn’t think I had the strength to try that task on my laptop. Then I found out there were Kindle editions of the books, and, additionally, that a lot of the classic public domain ebooks I have are, supposedly, relatively easy to "kindleize.” So I bit the bullet.

Let me say I’m glad I did. The Kindle 2 is very well balanced so it’s easy to hold. It weighs about the same as a small hardback. Not all of that is screen, of course. The screen is a little smaller than an old Ace Double Paperback, but since you can change the font size with a couple quick button presses that doesn’t pose a problem. The previous page/next page buttons are well situated for ease of use, and the menu button and small internal mouse work very well. There is a key pad at the bottom of the device, with buttons small enough so that hunting and pecking is required, but they are spaced so that you won’t hit two buttons at once unless you really have sausage fingers.

Within fifteen minutes of opening mine, and after spending only a few of those minutes looking at the manual, I was already ordering books online from Amazon’s Kindle store, and was reading. Since I have an account at Amazon, ordering books from them was very easy, and they arrived on my device in less than a minute.

As for the reading experience, it feels different from a book, although I think that feeling will dissipate as I gain experience with it. After all, I’ve been reading regular books for over 40 years. The different feeling isn’t really a barrier to enjoying an ebook this way, however. I’ve certainly enjoyed the one I’m reading first. The battery charged up pretty quickly, and I spent several hours yesterday and today reading without experiencing any problem with a low battery. I think that’s going to really make this device handy.

I worried about the difference between reading on a screen and on a page, and I have noticed one difference. During regular daylight, the Kindle screen is at least as easy if not easier to read than a paperback page. I do seem to notice a little more glare from the screen under artificial lighting, however, and I think you have to be more careful to position the Kindle under a light source than you would a regular paperback. It has not been a serious issue for me, so far.

The Kindle 2 is not a book. You can’t stick it in a back pocket and you have to be much more careful about dropping it than you would a paper book. But it also has advantages. Instead of packing 15 or 20 different books to take with me on a trip, I can just take the Kindle. It also has a read-to-you function as well, which is actually kind of nice (although I hear there are likely to be audio rights issues with that). And my fifty year old eyes sure like the ability to change font size.

All you need to hook your Kindle to your computer is a USB cable, and then you should be able to move books back and forth between the two devices, and even download music to Kindle. I haven’t done these things yet so I'll have to get back to you on those tasks. In the meantime, though, I’m off to finish my first Kindle ebook.

Happy reading to all.